Christian Means walks around the halls of Monticello High School with headphones on. He’s not doing it to be antisocial—he’d be happy to pause the music to say hello—but he is doing it on purpose. “I cannot function without having some kind of music playing in my head,” says Means.
It helps him focus, helps him “block out the craziness” that comes with balancing classes, choices about college, friendships and all the other things that make up adolescence.
Plenty of his classmates listen to music, but Means’ love for sound doesn’t stop at listening. He makes music, too.
For Means, Forest Brooks Veerhoff and Elliot Curry, all of whom graduate from Monticello this week, making music has been a meaningful part of their high school experience.
Means, a singer with R&B influences, grew up listening to pop, hip-hop and gospel, but it wasn’t until his seventh grade choir teacher gave him a solo that he realized he could sing. He signed up for David Glover’s audio production class at MHS this past year and, inspired by the creativity of his peers, wrote and recorded a few songs of his own, which he’s released on his SoundCloud page. There’s “Another Broken Hart,” which Means calls “a simple love song” about the back-and-forth of romance; and “Daydreamer,” a song about wanting your significant other to get out of their head and be present in the relationship.
For heavy metal multi-instrumentalist Curry, the urge to make music first stirred at 5 or 6 years old. He was riding in the back seat of his family’s car as the sun went down when his dad played Godsmack’s “Voodoo.” Curry remembers being “floored” by the sound and by the desire to know how to produce all those sounds, so he learned to play drums, guitar, bass and eventually piano.
Curry, who releases music as Burning Ivory, says that metal is an acquired taste, and those who gravitate toward the genre typically harbor some anger. “You don’t have to be a mean person, but there’s something that you are not satisfied with” that drives that sound, he says. He says that human behavior—the way people behave in certain situations—is a lot of what he works through in his music.
“When relationships crumble with friends, or you drift from people, the one thing that’s constant, that never leaves you is music,” says Curry, who tries to record something new every day. “For dark days, it’s always been there, and it’s even been there for good times.”
Veerhoff’s folk-rock sound began with an “old, dusty guitar” and some lessons his parents gifted to him for his eighth birthday. He now plays mandolin, organ, ukulele and banjo, which he utilized on an EP, Learning to Swim, under the moniker Forest Brooks, back in March.
Learning to Swim is the culmination of four years of experience and songwriting for Veerhoff, everything from driving alone at night in a beat-up car listening to a staticky radio (“Roadkill”), to the death of a neighbor (“Drowning”). As a kid, Veerhoff swam in this neighbor’s backyard pool and played cards with this neighbor’s mother. “My neighbor’s death in many ways seemed like the end of a major part of my childhood,” says Veerhoff. “I grew up and saw the flaws in the perfect house next door and what could happen there. [The song] is me parting ways with that chapter of my life.”
All three musicians agree that their teachers, Glover and Cullen Wade, both musicians themselves, fostered and encouraged their creativity at MHS.
Veerhoof sums it up: “Monticello has this amazing media department, and without it, high school would have sucked,” he says. “It’s so unique and awesome and I don’t know what would have pushed me through the day if I couldn’t have gone and jammed with a few classmates during lunches and free periods.”
Three Monticello High School graduating seniors, all musicians, share what they’ve been listening to recently, as they begin a new chapter in their lives.
Khalid, American Teen (2017) “I find it really relatable,” says Christian Means. The album is about the “experiences of a high school senior, about being on the verge of ending high school, of growing up and being part of America.” It’s helped him navigate the “stress and excitement” of graduating.
Car Seat Headrest, Teens of Denial (2016) “Teens of Denial…has been the soundtrack of my last two years of high school,” says Forest Veerhoff. “The funky blend of emotions and musicality expressed on that album has resonated with me in so many different experiences.”
Slipknot, Iowa (2001) Elliot Curry first came to love Iowa in middle school, and revisits it “out of nostalgia.” Slipknot singer Corey Taylor called the record “dark, brutal, amazing” in an interview with Revolver, and that’s part of what spoke to Curry, who laughs when he talks about how “kind of strange” it must have been for a middle schooler to love something so dark.